A Lesson From the Catacombs

 •  2 min. read  •  grade level: 11
IN the crypt of St. Peter's in Rome there is a marble sarcophagus which belonged to Junius Bassus, Prefect of Rome, who died about the middle of the fourth century. In that century the consecutive teaching embodied in a series of pictures, either in catacomb or on sarcophagus. began to decline; and while it appears in the present instance, it is only to be found in diminished proportions, and the series is introduced to fill up spaces in the general design of the sarcophagus. We give one section of the general design; above the panel will be seen two little groups of the Iamb in different attitudes. A glance at the tomb shows at once that the series of figures relative to the lamb was intended as a consecutive representation of ideas, and that it began with the design which we commence with. While the order I follow is, I contend, based on Scriptural teaching and real believing experience, it is also confirmed by the mural paintings in the catacombs which belong to the first three centuries.
The first among the representations before us is of one lamb following another to what appears to be a fountain issuing from beneath a rock. This corresponds in spiritual interpretation to Christ and the woman of Samaria, treated of in our last issue.
It includes also the bringing of water from the rock, and corresponds to the second illustration in the catacomb series referred to.
The second is of the Savior blessing baskets of loaves, and seems to carry us on to the Agape. The fisherman is left out.
The third is of a lamb with his foot on the head of another lamb. The dove above shows that the scene represents baptism.
The fourth—of a lamb receiving a book from heaven—indicates the divine origin of Scripture. This one is out of order, and is really the limit of the experience on earth of Junius Bassus.
The fifth—passing over. the Paralytic, the Damsel, Faith, the Agape, and the group under the gentle lord ship of the lamb—ends with the resurrection of Lazarus After reading the description of the so-called Chamber of the Sacraments, which appeared in our last number, and comparing the experience of the fourth century with that of the second, it will be seen how rich the latter is when compared with the former, and how the Scripture in the fourth century had ceased to exercise its highest functions in the Church of Rome. It is, however, very beautiful to see how the lamb is the beginning, the middle, and the end of the religion of Junius Bassus, who died a neophyte—that is, soon after baptism—in Rome in the fourth century.